• Ms. Jyoti sharma

The concept of 'Social Justice'.


The concept of justice is as old as origin and growth of human society itself. The social nature of man demands that he must live peacefully in society. While living in he tends to experience a conflict of interests and expects a rightful conduct on the others part and that’s why jurists like salmond and roscoe have emphasized the importance of justice. Justice in a moral sense implies the morally justifiable apportionment of rewards or punishments, each person being given what he or she is due. In other words, justice implies not to deprive an individual of his legitimate share of anything which may be wealth income privileges, opportunities etc. When deprivation occurs, he may object and say that injustice has been meted out to him. Justice implies to ‘just’ and ‘reasonable’.

According to blackstone- “justice is a reservoir from where the concept of right, duty and equity evolves”.

Justice is of different kinds, namely, social justice, civil, criminal justice, political justice etc. Here, in this article we are mainly concerned with the social justice only.

Social justice

  • Meaning

In words of p.v. gajendragadkar, social justice means eliminating all kinds of social inequalities and then provide equal opportunity to all.

According to barker- “social justice is another name for equal social rights.” “social justice aims to provide equal opportunities to every individual to develop his inherent qualities”.

It is a revolutionary concept which provides meaning and significance to life and makes the rule of law dynamic. It seeks to do justice to all the people of the country by adopting necessary and reasonable measures. It also seeks to achieve economic justice without any violent conflict. That’s why it is an umbrella term which also include economic justice as well. It is co-extensive with social welfare. Because social justice is supposed to dwell mainly in the abolition of all sorts of inequalities which are the concomitants of all sorts of inequalities of wealth and opportunity, race, caste, religion, distinction and title. Absence of privileged classes in society is an essential attribute of social justice.

In case of state of mysore v. Workers of gold mines (1958), the supreme court held that the concept of social justice is a living concept and of revolutionary impact. It gives substance to the rule of law and meaning and significance to the ideal of welfare state. Here, it can be emphasised that the social justice is co-extensive with the ideals of welfare state and analogous to an egalitarian society.

  • Origin

The term social justice was first used in 1843 by jesuit philosopher, luigi taparelli d’azeglio in 1843. This idea was first published by antonio rosmini, the classical liberal and english christian socialist in 1848. It has also enjoyed a significant audience among theorists since john rawls book, a theory of justice, has used it as a pseudonym of distributive justice.

The concept of social justice has been enshrined in legislation in two forms, which are as follows:

  1. By removing the existing socio-economic and political inequalities and disparities; and

  2. By enacting laws to achieve the socio-economic objective of welfare state.

Principles of social justice

There are four principles of social justice which are as follows:

  1. Access- to serve the people, a healthy society must offer services and resources like, education, healthcare, shelter, and food etc. However, in many societies, there’s unequal access which resulted in unjust access to all resources. For example, education. When only people from a certain class can afford good schools, those with lower-paying jobs have to settle for less. Thus, all people in society should have equal access to all opportunity.

  2. Equity- equity is different than equality. If social justice was only concerned with equality, it wouldn’t lead to a just society. As an example, let’s say two people need a health insurance plan. The benefits are identical and equal in every way, but one of the people has a chronic illness. In this case, “equality” can cause significant harm to the person who is ill. The two people with the same healthcare plan end up in very different places. Equitable healthcare considers the differences between the two people, adjusting to benefit the person who needs the most help. While “unequal” according to a strict definition, equity leads to a society with reduced inequalities.

  3. Participation- the fourth principle for social justice is participation. Society must allow everyone to voice their concerns and take part in making decisions. If something affects a person’s life, that person needs to be a part of the process. If there’s only a select group calling the shots with others silenced through discrimination, that’s social injustice. This is where access and equity come into play again. To increase access, society must remove barriers to participation. For equity, historically-undermined groups should be encouraged to speak.

  4. Human rights- human rights and social justice are two sides of the same coin. They can’t exist apart from each other. For a society to be just, it must ensure the protection of everyone’s civil, political, economic, cultural, and social rights which include the right to life, the right to free speech, the right to vote, the right to a fair trial etc. Governments must be held responsible when they violate these rights or fail to protect them. Human rights might be the most powerful principle for social justice because they’re recognized internationally and enshrined in many treaties.

The goal of social justice is to create a more just society by exploring our individual roles and consciously recognizing the unjust structures around us, then taking action to alleviate or eradicate those structures. Social justice is working toward social change.

Social justice and idea of welfare state

The idea of welfare state is that the claims of social justice must be treated as cardinal and paramount because social justice takes within its sweep the objective of removing all inequalities and affording equal opportunities to all citizens in social affairs as well as economic activities. Social justice is replete with multifarious connotations and many a time it is equated with a welfare state. Social justice in compliance to the idea of welfare state, tries to bring the deprived and weaker sections of society into an egalitarian order under which opportunities are afforded to uplift them.

Democratic socialism aims to end poverty ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity. Socialistic concept of society should be implemented in the true spirit of the constitution thus the principal aim of socialism is to eliminate inequality of income status, and standards of life, and to provide a decent standard of life to the working people. But democracy, therefore, must not show excess of valour by imposing unnecessary legislative regulations and prohibitions, in the same way as they must not show timidity in attacking the problem of inequality by refusing the past necessary and reasonable regulatory measures at all. Constant endeavour has to be made to sustain individual freedom and liberty and subject them to reasonable and control as to achieve socio-economic justice.

Position of social justice

  • Pre-independence

There are several ways and means to attempt change in social values and modes of social behaviors. Bringing about social reform through legislations is an important tool to deliver social justice to a significant extent to needy and weaker sections of the society. The indian social reformers belonging to nineteenth and early twentieth century seem to have given great deal of importance to social legislation for this purpose.

Legislations pertaining to the weaker sections, especially women viz., sati pratha, the amendments to Hindu marriage & family laws, labour laws, dowry, child marriage act, the acts protecting the interests of handicapped, minorities and powerless groups; reform relating to social evils like beggars, begging, prostitutions and social security were enacted with the hope that these laws would attempt to abolish social evils or facilitate in bringing about the desired social change. Indian constitution makers and the parliament have also shown immense faith in legislation to bring about change in the society. The constitution of India declared that untouchability stood abolished. Later when it was found the mere declaration was insufficient, the parliament passed the untouchability offences act in 1955.

  • Post-independence

After the independence, social legislation gained a new impetus. The rule of law and the legal system were strengthened considerably. The constitution of India became the main inspiration for making a variety of legislations. With the independence of India, a new constitution was adopted for the country embodying the social philosophy and economic values towards attainment of an egalitarian welfare state

Social justice & Constitution of India

In preamble of our constitution, it has been envisaged by the constitution-makers that it shall provide for justice-social, economic and political; liberty of thought expression and of opportunity; and to promote among the all fraternity assuring the dignity of individual and unity of nation.

The constitution has attempted to provide socio-economic justice and individual liberty and some of fundamental rights have also given to the citizen of india. These can be summarised as follow:

A separate chapter on fundamental rights including individual rights and freedoms and a chapter on directive principles of state policy comprising social rights has been incorporated in the constitution of india.

As per article 15 of constitution the state shall not make discrimination against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. But article 15(3) and sub clause (4) emphasised that state can make special provision for advancement of women and child, and any socially and educationally backward classes of citizen or for scheduled castes and the schedules tribes, which is a exemption to the general rule of equality. The concept of reservation has been brought about to uplift the marginalised community of our country. A similar exception is provided to the principle of equality of opportunity prescribed by article 16(1) in as much as article 16(4) allows the state to make provision for resolution of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizen which, in the opinion of state, is not adequately represented in service under the state.

In ashok kumar gupta v. State of u.p., the apex court held that to give proper representation to sc/st dalits in services is a social justice which is a fundamental right to the disadvantaged. Thus, it can’t be said that reservation is bad or unconstitutional. It is provided with an intent to uplift the disadvantaged.

According to article 17 of our constitution, untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form shall be forbidden. This article tries to bring a equality in caste and creed system that was prevailing in indian society.

Article 19 enshrines the fundamental rights of the citizens of country. The seven sub-clauses of article 19(1) guarantee the citizens even different kinds of freedom and recognise them as their fundamental rights. Article 19 considered as a whole furnishes a very satisfactory and rational basis for adjusting the claims of individual rights of freedom and claims of public good. Clause 1 of article 19 which provide for different kinds of freedom can be stated below:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression,

  2. Assemble peacefully and without arms,

  3. Form association or unions

  4. Move freely throughout the territory of india,

  5. Reside and settle in any part of territory of india,

  6. To practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Article 23 and 24 provide for protection against exploitation.

Part iv of our constitution specifically prescribe some measure to follow to establish a socialist-welfare state. According to article 38, the state shall strive to promote the welfare of people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of the national life. State should take measure to eliminate inequalities in income, in status, facilities and opportunity.

In consumer education research centre v. Union of india, it was observed that the preamble and article. 38 of the constitution of india are the supreme law envisages social justice as its arch to ensure life to be meaningful and livable with human dignity. State has to provide facilities to reach minimum standard of health, economic security and civilised living to the workmen.

Article 39 (a) and clause (b) make a reference to the ideals of socialism. Article 39a provides that the state shall secure that operation of legal system promotes justice, on basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by the suitable legislation or scheme or in ay other way, to ensure that opportunity for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

Article 41 recognises every citizen’s right to work, to education & to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness & disablement and in other cases of underserved want.

Article 42 emphasises the importance of securing just and humane conditions of work & for maternity relief. Article stresses on ideals of living wage for workers.

Article 46 deals with the importance of promotion of educational and economic interests of schedule castes, schedule tribes and other weaker sections.

In balbir kaur v. Steel authority of india, the apex court firmly held that the concept of social justice is yardstick to the justice administration system or the legal justice and it would be an obligation on law courts to apply the law depending upon the situation in a manner which is beneficial to the society as a whole.

According to granville austin, “the indian constitution is first and foremost a social document and the core of the commitment to the social revolution lays in part iii and iv in the fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy which he described as "the conscience of the constitution." the manner in which social revolution should be brought about is contained in the 'directives' incorporated in articles 38 to 48 of the constitution. The 'directives' cover a wide area of economic and social activity.”


The idea and principle of social justice is based on treating every individual equally and giving each his due. Justice is, thus, opposed to inequality, injustice and deprivation. The concept of social justice is founded on the basic ideal of socio-economic equality and its aim is to removal of socio-economic disparities and inequalities". Our constitution has laid down some provisions to ensure social justice to all the citizen of country. Also, our supreme court has always stepped in to protect the interest of citizen. Social justice has now become an umbrella term to deliver justice.It is considered as a basic need and concern of human societies. There are some socio-economic measures which are meant to protect the dignity of human personality and to ensure prosperity of people as also the state. For example, the protection of human rights act, 1993, national commission for women act, 1990, the legal services authorities act, 1987, the sc & st (prevention of atrocities) act, 1989, the civil rights act, 1955 etc. State from time to time has taken the steps to ensure social justice to all people. Justice is the genus, of which social justice is one of its species. Social justice is dynamic devise to mitigate the sufferings of the poor.

The importance of social justice can be better highlighted by an observation made by justice m.c. chagla, the former chief justice of bombay high court:

“we are no longer living in the laissez faire….it is true that social justice is imponderable and we are asked not to introduce the principles of social justice in construing legislation that comes for interpretation before us. But in our opinion, no economic, social or labour legislation can be considered by the court without applying the principles of social justice in interpreting these related provisions of law”.

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